Chawton House

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Chawton House, January 2008
Chawton House, March 2008

Chawton House is a grade ll* listed Elizabethan manor house in Hampshire. It is run as a historic property and also houses the research library of The Centre for the Study of Early Women's Writing, 1600–1830,[1], using the building's connection with the English novelist Jane Austen.

Chawton House, just outside the village of that name, used to be the home of the writer's brother, Edward Austen Knight.[2]. It remained a private family home into the late twentieth century. At the turn of the millennium it was purchased by a charitable trust, extensively restored, and re-opened as a research centre. The Centre, which runs study programmes in association with the nearby University of Southampton, incorporates a significant library,[3] a collection of over 9000 books and related manuscripts. The house is now open to visitors, as well as library readers, for tours and during public events. [4]

The house[edit]

It is set in 275 acres (1.11 km2) of Hampshire countryside, and is used for conferences, filming and more recently as a venue for weddings. The present Chawton House was built in 1580, principally by John Knight. Based on a manor house owned by the Knight family since 1551, it was subsequently extended and altered about 1655 and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. The house is built of flint with stone dressings and a tiled roof. The 17th-century south front has two storeys with an attic and three gables.

John Knight served as MP for Lymington from 1593 to 1597 and High Sheriff of Hampshire for 1609–10. The house passed down in the family until the male line failed with the death of Sir Richard Knight, after which it was devised to a relative by marriage, Richard Martin, who thereupon changed his name to Knight. It then passed to Thomas Brodnax, a relative, who did the same. His son, Thomas Knight, died childless and bequeathed the house to his distant relative Edward Austen, the elder brother of Jane Austen, who also added Knight to his name. It then descended in that last Knight family until inherited in poor condition by Richard Knight in 1987, who sold it in 1992.[5]

The library[edit]

In 1992 a 125-year lease on the house was purchased for £1.25 million by a foundation established by Sandra Lerner and Leonard Bosack, co-founders of Cisco Systems.[6][7]

Opened in 2003, it has a collection of over 9,000 books together with related original manuscripts. The Library works in partnership with the University of Southampton, and provides an important resource for the university's MA in 18th Century Study.[8]

In 2015 the house opened to visitors (not only scholars). In 2016 Lerner resigned from the board and her foundation has since directed its funds to other projects.[9]

The Library is now The Centre for the Study of Early Women's Writing, 1600–1830.

Women Writers[edit]

Chawton House Library is an independent research library and study centre which focuses on women’s writing in English from 1600 to 1830. The library’s main aim is to promote and facilitate study in the field of early women’s writing.

Below is a list of some of the female authors whose works are to be found at the Library. The full on-line catalogue is searchable, and can be accessed via the Chawton House website.

Knight Collection[edit]

The Library also houses the Knight Collection, a private collection of books belonging to the Knight family who owned and lived at Chawton House for 400 years. This collection of books was once owned by Edward Austen Knight, the brother of Jane Austen, and it is known that she used this collection of books. The library was started by Sandra Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems and philanthropist.[10]

Novels Online project[edit]

The Novels Online project makes freely accessible the full-text transcripts of some of the rarest works in the Chawton House Library collection. These texts explore broad-ranging themes as satire, slavery, marriage, witchcraft and piracy. In bringing these little-known novels to a wider audience, it is hoped to stimulate interest in these works amongst a new generation of readers. The texts are completely unedited, and have been copied from the originals as accurately as possible. Even printer errors have been retained. This is an ongoing project with more novels and texts being made available online.

The gardens[edit]

The gardens are open to the public, with access to a tearoom. The restoration programme for the gardens was extensive, and focused in particular on the restoration of the walled garden. Edward Knight had the idea to build a new walled garden during Jane Austen’s lifetime. In 1813, she wrote to her brother Frank, "He [Knight] talks of making a new Garden; the present is a bad one & ill situated, near Mr Papillon's; — he means to have the new, at the top of the Lawn behind his own house." Knight's original walls are mostly still intact, but the glasshouses and potting sheds, had to be rebuilt. The gardens have been restored using Edward Austen Knight's original planting scheme. The central space is used for the production of vegetables, soft fruits, herbs and flowers. Chawton House is registered with the Soil Association, and is now certified as an organic producer.[citation needed] Everything grown in the walled garden is for use by the Library, with any surplus being sold locally in aid of the charity.

The Jane Austen connection[edit]

Chawton house is situated about 400m away from the cottage where Austen lived for the last eight years of her life. This now houses the Jane Austen's House Museum, which is a large 17th-century house in the centre of the village of Chawton, owned by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust since 1947 [11] and preserved in her memory. The two houses, Chawton House and Jane Austen's House, are entirely separately run charities.

Austen is known to have been a frequent visitor to what she knew as the 'Great House', and she references it a number of times in her letters. Edward Austen also loaned it to his brother, Francis Austen. Edward Austen himself resided at Godmersham Park, but his son, Edward Knight II, moved to Chawton House following his marriage, and sold Godmersham Park following his fathers death.

Chawton House is the venue of the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom.[12] In 2003 the Jane Austen Society of North America held its 25th Anniversary AGM in the grounds of Chawton House.[13]

Visiting Chawton House[edit]

Chawton House from the driveway

Chawton House & Gardens is open to the public seven days a week, including bank holidays. Members of the public can tour the house and gardens. Opening times in 2018 are:

  • Monday – Friday 12.30 to 4.30 p.m. Last entry is at 4.00 p.m.
  • Weekends & bank holidays 11.00am – 4.30pm. Last entry 4.30pm.[14]

These hours apply until 7 December 2018, when the house closes for the winter. Updated opening times and ticket prices can be found on the Chawton House website. Group tours are available by contacting the Library directly.

Access to the Library itself is available, free of charge, to members of the public who would like to use the library collections. First-time visitors will need to provide identification. All visits to the library are by appointment only. The library opening hours are:

  • Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 12.30 pm and 1.30pm to 4.45pm.[15]

Events[edit]

Events are held regularly at the library, covering a range of topics relating to the House and Gardens, and material held by the Library; these include:[16]

  • Lectures and Talks by Visiting Fellows and other experts
  • Exhibitions
  • Arts Events
  • Other Events, including Heritage Open Days, Garden Tours, and Early Morning Rambles.

The Library also offers educational visits to schools, colleges and universities allowing the chance for teachers and students to engage with a variety of themes within a working, historic building. Both a formal programme of sessions and a bespoke service, to study specific areas in more detail, can be provided.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chawton House Library: Home to early English women's writing
  2. ^ Historic England. "CHAWTON HOUSE (1093975)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  3. ^ "Our story". Chawton House Library. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  4. ^ http://www.chawtonhouse.org
  5. ^ "House and History". Clawton House. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  6. ^ A Writer at Large: Sandy Lerner's Persuasion | Independent on Sunday, The | Find Articles at BNET.com
  7. ^ Daily Telegraph 2003: "Money's my little defining thing: Sandy Lerner says wealth is only interesting for what it can do. Her fortune has helped establish a women's literary centre, she tells Elizabeth Grice."
  8. ^ Chawton House Website Southampton Section
  9. ^ Flood, Alison (20 July 2017). "Jane Austen's Great House launches urgent appeal to stay open". the Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  10. ^ Julian Guthrie, "Cisco founder pens sequel to 'Pride and Prejudice'", San Francisco Chronicle, 30 May 2012 . Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  11. ^ Jane Austen's House Museum
  12. ^ Jane Austen Society UK : Aims and Activities
  13. ^ The Jane Austen Society of North America
  14. ^ http://www.chawtonhouse.org/?page_id=54548
  15. ^ http://www.chawtonhouse.org/?page_id=55485
  16. ^ "What's On". Chawton House.
  17. ^ http://www.chawtonhouse.org/?page_id=54626

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°07′42″N 0°59′19″W / 51.1282°N 0.9885°W / 51.1282; -0.9885